By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(This feature originally appeared in the Washington Post
Ward Cleaver may have helped June with the dishes and burned a few burgers in the back yard, but you weren’t going to see him teaching Wally and the Beav how to whip up a souffle. For the most part, post-World War II dads didn’t cook — the kitchen was Mom’s domain — and their sons were expected to cut the lawn, not the vegetables. Baby boomer boys were supposed to be nostalgic about Mom’s Meatloaf, not Dad’s Risotto.
But if you talk with men who not only donned aprons but grew up to be nationally acclaimed chefs, you hear about fathers who loved food and profoundly influenced their sons’ cooking in ways both significant and silly.
Detroit chef Jimmy Schmidt remembers his dad cooking meatloaf atop the engine of the car on family drives and collecting black walnuts in the country. Agostino Buggio, chef at the Nicholas Restaurant at the Stouffer Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, says his father Cesare was “a chef at home” who hosted dinner parties every Sunday. Elmer Ogden told his son, California chef Bradley Ogden, “If you’re a cook, you can always get a job.” And Patrick Clark of New York City’s Tavern on the Green would spend his allowance on cream cheese so he could experiment with cheesecakes. His father, chef Melvin Clark, should have known then that his son would end up following in his footsteps.
Each of these chefs is also raising a son — or three — who is growing up knowing that a man’s place is in the kitchen. At home these culinary stars are just dads who cook breakfast and take pride in their sons’ palates the way other parents brag about batting averages. Whether they become chefs or not, this next generation is already exhibiting a level of food savvy far beyond their years and peers. Jimmy Schmidt: “Dad’s a Cooker” Jimmy Schmidt’s father never really cooked for him. “He did a little grilling and he used to make ice cream,” says Schmidt, 40, chef and co-owner of six restaurants, including Detroit’s Rattlesnake Club and Denver’s Rattlesnake Grill.
Well, except for when the Schmidt family went on vacation and Glenn Schmidt, now 82, would cook a meatloaf or roast chicken, wrapped in foil, on the hot car engine. “He figured out when it would be done by the mileage,” says Schmidt, chuckling at the memory.
But Schmidt’s innovative take on American cuisine was indelibly marked by his upbringing outside Champaign, Ill.
“My father did tons of gardening. He raised nearly everything we ate. My father taught me about the urgency of freshness, of capturing those flavors.”
In the fall, Schmidt also foraged for black walnuts, which the family would spread on the road. “Dad would drive over them to break the outer husk. Before Christmas we would have to crack the walnuts and dig the meats out for plum pudding.”
To chef Schmidt’s 7-year-old son, Stephen, and 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, Dad is “a cooker,” and they have grown up assuming that all dads cook.
Stephen, says his dad, has always been interested in food. “At 3, he was great with a paring knife, except he waved it around and was kind of dangerous.” Now, says Schmidt, he “works” occasionally at Schmidt’s restaurants: “He likes working with pastries because he gets to eat them.”
The boy likes to make pasta and pizzas, says Schmidt, and exposure to high-quality foods like dry-aged steaks and fresh seafood has sharpened his son’s palate. “He won’t go to McDonald’s . . . except for the toys.”
Schmidt proudly brags that he was one of the few dads invited back to his son’s career day two years in a row. His popularity may have something to do with the fact that he brought in some 11-pound blocks of imported chocolate and taught the kids to make truffles and his signature dessert, chocolate ravioli. “I had the whole school there,” he says. “A couple of the kids said: I wish my dad was a cooker, too.’ ” Agostino Buggio: “A Chef at Home” The first thing Agostino “Tino” Buggio remembers cooking was a batch of tomato sauce when he was 13 1/2. A big batch, as his mother sometimes still reminds him.
“I didn’t know. I made enough sauce to feed about 500 people. I thought my mother was going to have a fit,” says Buggio, who was born in Italy but grew up in Dijon, France.
He says he was just inspired by his father, Cesare Buggio. “My father wasn’t a chef, but he was a chef at home. As soon as I came home from school, he was cooking. The smell was in the house,” says Buggio. “His specialty was fish, things like blackened risotto with cuttlefish ink.”
Buggio learned from his dad early on about the pleasures of feeding people. “We had people over to the house to eat his food every Sunday. No one refused it.”
The result, says Buggio, was that he was excited about cooking by the time he was 13.
But becoming a chef was his father’s idea, says Buggio. “He said to me: If you become a chef, you will never starve.’ ”
He hasn’t starved, and neither have the patrons of Nicholas, the restaurant at the Stouffer Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, where Buggio has been chef since 1986.
Buggio’s 12 1/2-year-old son, Vincent, has clearly inherited some of his father’s — and grandfather’s — zeal for food.
“When Vincent was smaller, 5 or 6 years old, he used to stand on a chair in the kitchen and stir the sauce. He liked to taste what I was cooking,” says Buggio.
“At home he makes his own dough for pizza. He has his own herbs growing in the garden and his own tomatoes. He’s very proud of it. When he cooks something at home, he takes it to school the next day and has his friends taste it.”
Recently, chef and son went fishing, says Buggio. “We caught 30 trout in the river. The only time Vincent will eat whole fish is when he catches it. He cooks them with olive oil and herbs.”
That said, he gleefully notes that Vincent is also a regular American kid who has been known to mindlessly gulp down a few fish sticks on the way to soccer practice. Bradley Ogden: “Give 200 Percent” If it hadn’t been for his father’s intervention, one of America’s foremost chefs would have ended up as a draftsman.
Bradley Ogden — co-owner and executive chef of the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, Calif., and One Market Restaurant in San Francisco — was in drafting school following high school graduation. “My dad talked me into working at a resort hotel. I washed pots and pans and flipped eggs. Then he saw a newspaper article about the Culinary Institute of America,” says Ogden. Soon thereafter, Ogden and his twin brother, Bentley, went off to be trained at the CIA. By age 20, Ogden was a working chef.
His father, Elmer Ogden, owned a music club in Traverse City, Mich., where local heroes like Bob Seger rocked out. “He never did much cooking,” says Ogden. “That was my mother’s job. But he always considered himself a gourmet. Quality was critical to him,” says Ogden. “He said: If you’re cooking a fish, it’s fresh out of the water. If you’re using berries, they should be fresh-picked wild berries.’ ”
Ogden, 42, says that his father’s influence can clearly be seen in his award-winning cuisine, which always concentrates on excellent ingredients. “The main thing I learned from him was that in everything you do, always give 200 percent. Do it right.”
Ogden’s three sons — Chad, 20, Bryan, 17, and Cory, 15 — have grown up immersed in the world of chefs, restaurants and fine cuisine. From an early age, they were “forced to taste, if not to eat, a lot of different things,” says Ogden, calling from New York, where he was cooking at the annual James Beard Meals on Wheels benefit, assisted by his oldest son, who eventually wants to become a veterinarian.
“Chad has always been interested in cooking . . . well, actually more eating than cooking. He has always had a great palate. He was eating escargot when he was 2 1/2 years old. People couldn’t believe their eyes. Since he was 4 he has worked at the restaurants,” says Ogden.
High school student Bryan “has the most food talent. If I was to pick one to go into the business, it’s him. He has a real flair.”
Knowing the somewhat delicate nature of the father-son relationship, Ogden immediately adds: “I’m not pushing him into cooking. He doesn’t want me to know he likes it.”
Number three son Cory “has some interest in cooking and definite taste. Sometimes when I’m not cooking, he takes his buddies to the restaurant. They review the food and service and tell me about it.”
Regardless of whether any them end up working as chefs, Bradley Ogden is satisfied knowing that he has molded how they view food.
“What they learn from me is how food plays a part in their lives. They see the products I pick out. They see me go to the market twice a week. They can’t help but pick up something for later in life.” Patrick Clark: “Taste It, Then Decide” One day Patrick Clark’s mother came home from work and smelled pork chops cooking as soon as she walked in the door.
“I cooked dinner for my sister and me that night. It turned out okay. I didn’t burn them,” says Clark, executive chef at New York City’s Tavern on the Green and, until recently, chef at Washington’s Hay-Adams Hotel. “I was always puttering in the kitchen, from the time I was 10. “I really liked cheesecake. I used to spend my allowance on buying cream cheese so I could bake them. I guess it’s kind of in the blood.” Clark’s dad, Melvin Clark, was sous chef at the Four Seasons and cooked at other notable New York City restaurants.
“I’ve known restaurant people since I was a kid. My sister and I got exposed to it early and we tasted things most kids our age didn’t.
Clark, 40, says what he learned from his dad has stayed with him. “I learned that food is entertaining, that great food makes a great party.”
He also learned that “cooking was hard work. I saw how many days he had to work, six days a week.
Melvin Clark did not want his son to follow in his footsteps.
“He discouraged me because he saw how it affected the family,” says Clark who nonetheless ended up training to be a chef at the same school in Brooklyn his father attended. From there, Patrick studied in Europe. “My culinary direction was different from his. If he were here today it would be interesting to compare notes.”
Melvin Clark died when Patrick was 17, but his influence on Clark’s modern American food is palpable. “I like highly seasoned food. My parents were from the South and that’s the way I was fed, on ethnic foods: greens, ham hocks, my Mom’s fried chicken.”
Clark’s five children include three girls, his 14-year-old son, Preston, and 4-year-old Cameron.
Occasionally, Preston likes to go to work at the restaurant. “You know, you’re doing what Dad does, hanging out with the older guys. On Mother’s Day, he helped make thousands of raviolis.”
Clark says he’s also impressed with his son’s palate. “He understands what he’s eating. For his birthday, he brought some friends to the Tavern. It was his idea to have a tasting dinner. He said he wanted to eat what Daddy cooks.”
While Preston is interested in food, when Clark asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, “He says he wants to be a lawyer.”
Four-year-old Cameron, says Clark, loves eating at McDonald’s but also developed a passion for seafood.
“He loves lobster and crab. He loves shrimp. He says: Daddy, when are you going to cook seafood?’ ”
That, says Clark, is a result of his insistence that his kids try new foods. “We have an unspoken rule: Taste it and then decide. You won’t know if you like it until you try it.’ ” However, he agrees that it’s wrong to force the issue.
After the school year ends, Clark will move his family from their Virginia home to New Jersey. Until then, he commutes to New York each week but will make a special trip back for his daughter’s elementary-school graduation. Ironically, on Father’s Day this Sunday, Clark, like most chefs, will be working in the kitchen preparing meals to feed hundreds of dads and their families on one of the busiest restaurant days of the year.
John Lehndorff is the food editor of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., and culinary commentator on KGNU-FM. His 15-month-old son, Hans, likes to taste Daddy’s cooking, sniff mint in the back yard and eat pasta, peanut butter and spinach — but only when the spinach is in Oysters Rockefeller.
Tips From Dads Who Are Chefs
Do you wish your son were as interested in making dinner as he is making the baseball team at school? Chefs who are dads say that the biggest thing a father can do is to be a good culinary role model. Here’s a few do’s and don’ts.
From Patrick Clark:
“Get away from processed baby food. Feed them real food. Start exposing them to new foods early.”
“Take the kids to the store with you. Tell them why you buy this tomato and not the other.”
“Dads can help sons get away from the stereotype that cooking is the woman’s job. Expose them to the fact that most chefs are male.”
From Jimmy Schmidt:
“Generally, kids like foods simple. But if you let them add ingredients — when normally they wouldn’t eat them — they’ll eat it because it was their idea. My son loves spicy mustard on his grilled cheese because he put it on one day. If I did it, they wouldn’t eat it.”
“Kids love all the tools, all the ingredients. Let them play with them.”
From Agostino Buggio:
“If you don’t know how to cook, take classes. Read some cooking magazines. Or watch some food shows on television. My son watches the food shows on TV. Then he comes to me and says: Oh daddy. Why do you make that dish different from Jacques Pepin?’ ”
From Bradley Ogden:
“Even at an early age you can try to get kids interested in food. Take them to the market. Have them taste the strawberries. Even at a Sunday barbecue they can help.”